Temptation and Evil

Why ask God to “lead us not into temptation?” Does God tempt us? And from what kind of evil are we asking to be rescued?

Yeshua taught his disciples to pray, “And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). The Hebrew word for temptation (nissayon, נסיון) can mean “enticement to sin” or “trial” and “testing.” The same ambiguity exists in the Greek. James the brother of the Master clarifies the prayer’s meaning when he warns us against supposing that God entices us to sin:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. (James 1:13-14)

God does not lead His people into enticement, but He may lead us into difficulties which test our character and try our faith and allegiance. For example, remember how “God tested Abraham” (Genesis 22:1). The rabbis say, “Abraham our father was proven by ten trials” (m.Avot 5:3).

In that regard, the petition beseeches God to lead us not into difficulties, evil occurrences, tragedy, misfortune, disease, and so forth. The prayer honestly admits one’s own frailty and human limitations. The Master later said to His disciples, “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).

We ask God to spare us from trials and difficulties. When we do, however, find ourselves in trials and difficulties, we ask God for deliverance. The petition “deliver us from evil” can be understood as a prayer for deliverance from any evil circumstance, a prayer for deliverance from persecution, or a prayer for deliverance from the evil one—the Satan and our own evil inclination. In 2 Timothy 4:18, Paul declares, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom.”

The Jewish prayerbook has close parallels. The daily prayers of the Jewish people contain a prayer which includes all the shades of meaning implied by the words “lead us not into temptation, but deliver from evil.”

Do not let us be overcome by sin, disobedience, or iniquity, not by trials, nor by disgrace; and do not let the evil inclination rule us. Distance us from harmful people and harmful friends … rescue me today and every day … from my evil inclination, from an evil friend, from an evil neighbor, from an evil incident … and from the destructive adversary (satan). (Siddur, Morning Prayers)

This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion and reposted with permission.